Wind River

Wind River

By: Kevin Jordan

The Great White Hunter

The last shot of the movie Wind River has a title card stating that no data is kept tracking the number of missing Native American girls.  This is a strange way to end a movie that isn’t about missing girls, but is about solving the murder of a Native American girl.  It also seems to be trying to say something about whom to blame for the sorry state of reservations, but it’s really not clear who.  The movie throws shade at both the local Natives and the white man, then quietly drops the conversation.  For an otherwise great movie, its ability to convey a strong social message is fairly lacking.

(Early SPOILER ALERT.)

I don’t want to get political with this movie, but considering the attention being paid lately to Hollywood whitewashing, it’s worth a mention.  This isn’t the typical whitewashing in that no white people were cast in roles that would be better served by actors of a different ethnicity.  In this case, it’s the literal and figurative depiction of the great white hunter saving the day for the Native Americans.  Not only is the protagonist a white guy (Jeremy Renner) hired to hunt predatory animals, but he’s literally dressed in all white for much of the film and ends up hunting the murderer.  Top that off with a tribal police force consisting of half a dozen cops who come off as idiots, led by a wise-cracking, wizened old police chief (Graham Greene) who long ago forgot what police procedure consists of, and of course the white man must be the savior.  It’s 2017, but we’re still getting movies with this kind of messaging.  Ok, let’s move on now.

Literally.

While out hunting a mountain lion, Cory Lambert (Renner) comes across the body of a young woman in the snow in middle-of-nowhere Wyoming on the Wind River Reservation.  He alerts the tribal police and they call the FBI, since a murder on a reservation is FBI jurisdiction.  Wait, it is?  Googling…Googling…yep, that’s true.  In response, the FBI sends agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), who might be the worst agent in the FBI.  Or maybe she’s just really new.  Except, she doesn’t know that it’s cold in Wyoming in the spring, which is the kind of thing an FBI agent should know prior to the academy.  She claims to have been sent from the closest office – Las Vegas, Nevada.  Googling…um, no.  There are field offices in Denver and Salt Lake City, even three satellite offices in Wyoming, so I’m going to call bullshit on that one.  To be fair, this was done to add more to the idea that she was out of her depth on this case (and that the white man couldn’t be bothered to send more than a token of help), but really this was just an excuse for showing Olsen in a thong (which I’m not complaining about, by the way).  But again, 2017.

Through much of the film, the writer (Taylor Sheridan, also directing) goes out of his way to make sure we never forget that murder cases can’t be solved by police or FBI agents trained in investigative techniques, but only with the help of Salt-of-the-Earth guy.  Corey is an expert tracker, so every clue in the investigation is found by Corey pointing at the snow and repeating to us that “the clues are all out there.”  Basically, this consists of him pointing at very obvious snowmobile tracks that escape the sight of law enforcement and eventually lead to the climactic reveal.  Kudos to Sheridan for religiously sticking to the tracker/hunter theme.  Okay, I guess this movie is your typical murder mystery, but I promise it’s better than many others.

The one competent tribal cop.

The film is basically a drawn-out police procedural, but with much better acting and pacing.  The pacing is especially good, never moving us too fast or too slow through the investigation and always breaking up the slow discovery scenes with bits of action.  Strong camera work also helps put the audience into the hunt with the characters, though there is one scene that ruins the emotional beats with the always-obnoxious shaky-cam.  There are also great emotional beats throughout the film that are placed perfectly.  Olsen and Renner nail their roles, but the supporting cast, especially Greene and Gil Birmingham (the dead girl’s father), are just as noteworthy.  Birmingham is in just two scenes, but he owns them.  All of this leads into a great climax scene that comes in two parts.  The first part is the revealing of the events leading to the girl’s death and the second part is the wrapping up of the investigation.  These two parts are what make this movie and I promise they are worth the wait (and putting up with the political angle I mentioned earlier).  Googling…googling…yep, most reviewers agree with me.

Rating: Ask for two dollars back and donate it to whatever charity is trying to help out reservation police.  Apparently, they really need it (because they’re legitimately under-resourced).

The Dark Tower

The Dark Tower

By: Kevin Jordan

Adapt at your own risk.

Let’s just get this out of the way right now.  If you are a fan of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, at the very least, you are probably going to be disappointed in the movie The Dark Tower.  At the very most, you’re going to be pissed off for days, cursing Sony (the production company) and willing The Man in Black to pay visits to the director (Nikolaj Arcel) and writers (Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, and Arcel).  And I would not blame you for hating this movie.  When compared to the books, it’s a travesty, especially since you (and I) have been waiting for a film adaptation for decades.  To say this movie is loosely based on the books is to abuse the word loosely.  I’m sure, at this very moment, my writing colleague is tearing this movie a new ass hole in his review.  But I’m not going to do that because I expected this would happen.

The Dark Tower literary series is a massive, sprawling epic covering eight whole books and tying into dozens more books.  There is no chance in hell a 95-minute movie (I still can’t believe that length) could do any kind of justice to even a portion of a single Dark Tower novel, let alone the entire series.  The first clue was in the title of this movie.  The first novel is titled The Gunslinger, which means Sony had no intention of this film being anything more than a placation of clamoring fans.  They figured they’d grab the iconic characters from the first book, include a bunch of things from throughout the series, toss in a bunch of additional Easter eggs for Stephen King fans, and call it a day.  The strange thing is it turned out to be enough to placate me.

Just one of many placations.

(SPOILER ALERT.  For the movie, not the books.)

Supposedly, production on a TV series is slated to begin in 2018, and if true, is the only good way to handle adapting the series.  Like with Game of Thrones and Outlander, the only way to do the books justice is in super-long form television.  That allows the show-runners to focus on all aspects of the writing rather than forcing them to cram things into what amounts to a two-part episode.  Knowing that, it’s hard to get worked up over the latest example of Hollywood failing at adapting a beloved book.  From a purely cinematic standpoint, The Dark Tower is an adequate movie.

Maybe I’m cutting the movie too much slack, but there isn’t anything in the film that is bad.  In all honesty, they captured the plot of the entire series fairly well.  All of the universes are protected and held together by a Dark Tower.  Walter, a.k.a. The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), wants to destroy the Dark Tower so that the Crimson King can rule all.  Roland Deschain, a.k.a. The Gunslinger (Idris Elba), wants to avenge the death of his father by killing Walter.  Eventually, Roland accepts that the Dark Tower is more important than his vengeance.  That’s all captured in this movie and, all things considered, is…well…adequate.

That’s Roland alright.

I did mention the film features all of the major characters from The Gunslinger and that includes young Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor).  Jake has psychic powers and Walter is hunting and capturing kids with those powers in order to assault the Dark Tower.  This being a standard Hollywood action flick, Jake’s power is far beyond any other kid’s and Walter believes Jake is the key to finally bringing down the Tower.  In another creative decision sure to piss off fans, Jake is this movie’s protagonist.  That’s right, get all your cursing out now, I’ll wait.  After some really quick character development, Jake ends up crossing through a portal into Roland’s world and the two of them journey together to stop Walter.  It’s really that straight-forward of a movie, complete with the by-the-numbers hero’s journey.  Again, adequate.

The slack I’m cutting is mainly for three reasons.  One – the casting was very good.  Idris Elba nails Roland and Tom Taylor is Jake to a tee.  The two of them carry this movie and, despite the short running time, create decently fleshed-out characters.  McConaughey is also good, but he didn’t quite make it all the way to menacing.  Oh, he looks the part and comes close, but his Walter comes off a little flat.  Making up for it, the folks playing Walter’s henchmen (the Low Men) really look the part, especially Abbey Lee Kershaw and Jackie Earle Haley, both playing Walter’s lieutenants.

They definitely look the parts.

Two – the way Roland interacts with his guns really sells how skilled he is.  There are several different ways in which he can reload his revolvers and his marksmanship skills are second to none.  Granted, the movie goes fairly stupid in also giving Roland super-powers (fast healing, enhanced strength, impervious to falling from tall heights).  This feels like studio meddling, but Akiva Goldsman’s writing and producing credits indicates he might just be that bad a writer.

Third, and definitely the nerdiest, are those Easter eggs I mentioned earlier.  I realize how manipulative those moves are in tricking fans into a more favorable view of the movie, but I’m owning it.  The number 19, a low-rider Cadillac toy, a shout out to Pennywise, the Shine, a spider, 1408, roses, and probably others that I missed all had me grinning like an idiot.

The way I felt at the end of this film reminds me of how I felt after watching Ender’s Game.  It’s missing a whole lot of what made the book such an incredible read, but at least they didn’t completely fuck it up.  Yes, the big emotional moment from the book with Jake was missing from the film, but I saw the previews and I knew this movie was really only a token gesture at bringing King’s opus magnus to screen.  It’s enough for me that Roland was written and portrayed well, that Walter was at least a formidable foe for Roland (despite the silly action movie ending), and that a bunch of fan nuggets were thrown in.  I know I’m being much kinder to this movie than for many other movies, but, like I said, I’m owning my placation.

Rating: Unless you are in the outraged group of fans, ask for two dollars back.

Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde

By: Kevin Jordan

Confusion and breasts.

It’s not often that I’m completely confused by my feelings for a movie, but Atomic Blonde is one of those instances.  My immediate reaction at the end of the movie was “I think I liked it?  Maybe?”  It definitely had elements I liked and there weren’t any obvious (at least to me) plot holes, but I wasn’t satisfied by what I had seen.  Very recently, I watched Get Out and my reaction to every reveal in the film was “Oooooohhhh…Whoa!…Oh man!”  Etcetera.  My reactions to the reveals in Atomic Blonde were much more “uuuhhhh…Wait, huh?..But then why…?”  Etcetera.  Of course, Atomic Blonde is a spy thriller, so maybe the confusion was intentional.  Or, my brain is still on strike after being forced to sit through Valerian and the Way Too Long Title last week.

(SPOILER ALERT and do heed this warning.  REVIEW SPOILER ALERT – I think this movie is worth a watch, so look away while you still can.)

I think my first problem with Atomic Blonde is completely subjective.  Like with Baby Driver, it is impossible not to notice the music, but unlike with Baby Driver, the music is not woven into the story or relevant to the scenes.  Atomic Blonde takes place in Berlin in 1989 (a few days before the fall of the Berlin Wall), so most of the music is garbage 80’s pop music (sometimes with German lyrics) that everyone waxes nostalgic about, but secretly hates.  I on the other hand, openly hate that music and it’s basically what I grew up with in my early childhood (I’m currently 38 years old – you do the math).  I did not care for the color palette of the film – which leaned heavily on neons and washed-out blues – nor the spray-painted stencil fonts of the title cards.  If that’s your thing, great, but more importantly, what’s wrong with you?

There is literally no reason for her to pull her collar over her face.

My second problem is I think I need to see this movie again.  The movie takes the saying “oh what a tangled web we weave…” to the extreme.  Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is an MI6 agent tasked with recovering a list of all agents before the Russians get their hands on it.  Plus, there’s a mole/double-agent in the agency.  It’s literally the plot of Mission: Impossible, but with boobs and a much shittier theme song.  You read that right and there’s a scene I won’t spoil for you featuring Charlize Theron doing things you would never think an A-List actress would need to do at this point in her career.  But I will tell you that scene is one of the scenes that never makes sense by the end of the film.

Broughton is supposed to meet up with Berlin Station Chief David Percival (James McAvoy), who was supposed to get the list from his inside man, Spyglass (Eddie Marsan), but which was stolen from the spy Spyglass gave it to who was supposed to give it to Percival.  Got that?  See, I told you.  And that’s the easy part.  Broughton and Percival sorta-kinda work together, but it’s obvious from the start that Percival has his own agenda.  In addition to them, a Russian KGB agent named Aleksander Bremovych (Roland Miller) is also trying to get the list and a French spy named Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) is there because, well, I’ll have to get back to you on that one.  It’s not clear if Delphine is working on her own or with Percival, but we’re told multiple times that she is a rookie and in over her head so she shows us her boobs to distract us (and presumably Broughton, but also, maybe not).  The film is basically the spy version of Duck, Duck, Goose where everyone is both a duck and a goose and Broughton gets the shit kicked out her.  Except when she’s the goose, that is, and kills every duck that tapped her head.  Still with me after that terrible analogy?

Dude, what happened to your face?

What’s confusing by the end of the film is that many of the character interactions don’t make much sense after all is revealed.  Adding to the confusion (or subterfuge, if you buy what this film is selling), is that nearly everything we see happened in the past.  Broughton is telling the entire story to her boss, Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and CIA agent Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman) while Gray’s boss, C (James Faulkner), looks on.  Director David Leitch pulled this same technique in his only other directing stint (the terribly written, but decently choreographed John Wick), but this time you at least don’t know if Broughton completed her mission (whereas John Wick is a revenge story, so his being alive takes every ounce of suspense out of the film).  So, you are left to wonder who the mole of Atomic Blonde is, if it’s someone in the debriefing room or someone in the story.  But if there’s one thing Leitch is good at, it’s distracting the audience with very good action/fight scenes and naked people.

I’m tempted to lump this film in with Baby Driver as a movie that fails the substance-to-style ratio.  The cynical side of me points to John Wick and wants to dump all over Atomic Blonde, but the optimistic side of me has tied that cynic to a chair and gagged him.  Atomic Blonde’s characters have depth and intrigue and the movie sucks you into their world, even as the music threatens to wrench you right back out of it.  Theron and McAvoy nail their roles and are very convincing in their fight scenes.  I especially like how real the fights seem and how damaged the people are at the end of them.  The makeup people deserve an award for making the beautiful Theron look like an extra from The Walking Dead by the time she ends her story.  The moral of this story is that I’m willing to give this film the benefit of the doubt; that there might be things I missed that explain character connections that don’t appear to add up.  I just don’t know if I can take the music again.

Rating: Ask for half your money back since you’ll have to see it twice.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

By: Kevin Jordan

Oh, dear god.

Imagine if Jupiter Ascending and John Carter had a baby.  Then, imagine if they used that baby as the ball in a game of kickball.  Finally, imagine the two star players of the game had all the chemistry, charisma, and playing skills of the goose poop scattered on the field.  That is Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

Rating: Ask for extra money back on top of the money you spent for this film.  I continue to underestimate Luc Besson’s ability to deliver worse crap than his previous crap.

 

Special Ruthless Ratings:

Number of minutes into the movie before Cara Delevingne puts on shirt:  50

Number of times you realized her breasts were her only redeeming quality in this film:  49

How many times did Delevingne’s facial expression change?  Negative-8

How old do you think Dane DeHaan is?  17

How old is he really?  31

How believable was the romantic relationship between the leads?  Wait, that was supposed to be romance?

How many times did you wish they would shut the hell up about their relationship?  29

How sexist was it that DeHaan’s character’s rank was major and Delevingne’s was just a sergeant?  Very

Number of minutes of screen time for Rihanna:  5

Number of minutes Rihanna spends pole dancing:  4

Number of times Rihanna acts a scene out like she thinks she’s getting an Oscar nod:  1

Number of times you caught yourself falling asleep:  9

Dunkirk

By: Kevin Jordan

The war-iest of war movies.

We’ve all seen what Christopher Nolan is capable of and it’s almost always been fantastic.  We’re at a point now where “Directed by Christopher Nolan” is all that needs to be said to peak interest in a new movie.  In other words, the opposite of “Directed by M. Night Shyamalan.”  We’ve also come to expect a certain type of movie; one with a well-written and intriguing story featuring rich characters, dazzling visuals, and sounds/music that are almost a character unto themselves.  When Dunkirk was announced and the first trailers dropped, our immediate reaction was “YAAAAAASSSSSS.”  The thing is we haven’t seen a Nolan movie like this before.

For those of you who don’t have the slightest idea what Dunkirk refers to, stop reading now.  You are the only people who will be surprised by the events depicted in this film.  For the rest of you, Nolan dispenses with the rich characters and intriguing plot to focus on the final day (apparently) of the evacuation of the British Army at Dunkirk, France in June, 1940 during World War II.  Don’t get me wrong, there are characters in this film, but none of them are developed to the point where you might care whether they live or die.  And, the plot is just a telling of the event through the lens of a few anecdotes featuring some of those characters.  But, like I said, that isn’t the point of this movie.

Here’s the point of this movie.

The point of this movie was to put the audience on the beach with the hundreds of thousands of soldiers desperate to escape the oncoming German army, air force, and artillery (with Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, and Kenneth Branagh).  The point of this movie was to put the audience into the seat of a British Spitfire fighter plane (with Tom Hardy and Jack Lowden), dogfighting with German Luftwaffe.  The point of this movie was to put the audience on a civilian boat (with Mark Rylance, Tom Glynn-Carney, Cillian Murphy, and Barry Keoghan) making its way to Dunkirk to help rescue the soldiers.  And that is exactly where you, the audience, feel like you are.

If you intend on seeing this film, see it in IMAX or you will miss out on the full experience.  The movie was filmed with IMAX cameras in order to take full advantage of the technology and make you suspend your disbelief that you are sitting in a theater in 2017 and not a French beach in 1940.  Nolan and his visual team also filmed as many practical effects as possible, to the point in which (according to Nolan), there is no scene in the movie that is pure CGI.  Yes, that includes flying actual Spitfires (or replicas) and, in some cases, crashing them.

You should also sit in the back row near the speakers (which is where I was sat for the screening).  The sound and music (by Hans Zimmer) were amazing and our place in the theater was literally vibrating in tune with the movie.  It might very well be that everyone in the theater felt that as well, but I’ve seen a lot of IMAX movies and it’s the first time I felt like the music was literally moving me.  There’s also a ticking clock underscoring the music throughout nearly the entire film, which heightens the tension in the film.  The genius of the ticking is that there are stretches where you can’t hear it, but you know it’s still there.  And when it finally stops, it’s almost deafening in its silence.  Yeah, I’m totally geeking out over it.

I don’t remember his name, but he’s a hell of a pilot.

Speaking of tension, book a massage for after the film.  Even if you are familiar with the event, you can’t help but clench every muscle during the film.  Even though you won’t be emotionally connected to the characters, you are expecting them to eat it at any moment, which makes the film that much more tense.  Do not buy food or drink because you will forget you have those things.

The bottom line is Dunkirk is an excellent film from an extraordinary filmmaker.  Dunkirk shows us the height of technical filmmaking while delivering a harrowing experience for audience members, regardless of how historically literate one might be.  You would be forgiven for expecting something closer to Saving Private Ryan or Titanic, but embrace the fact that you are getting an extremely well-funded history lesson that will make you duck and cover in what may be the best, pure war movie you have ever seen.

Rating: Worth triple what you paid for it, especially for the IMAX surcharge.

Wish Upon

Wish Upon

By: Kevin Jordan

Kind of some obvious wishes did not get made.

Sometimes, you have to be in the right mood to enjoy a movie, especially a bad one.  Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been listening to a podcast called My Dad Wrote a Porno and it is arguably the funniest thing I’ve heard in my life.  I’ve seriously considered not listening to it during my daily drive to work because it’s put me in tears more than once and that makes it hard to see the road.  Point being, I was in a very good mood the day of the screening for Wish Upon and it was a very good thing that I was in such a good mood.  In other words – it was definitely a Movie for Me.

Another thing that helps a person enjoy a movie is seeing it with a good audience.  I’ve sat with some terrible audiences for bad movies and it made me hate the movie that much more when I should have at least been enjoying it for the terrible shit that it was.  A year later and I still have dreams about pushing some Ghostbusters audience members off a bridge.  Not a tall bridge, but tall enough to make them think long and hard about what they did.

Anyway, the audience for Wish Upon was great for a couple of reasons.  First, they reacted appropriately throughout the movie.  There were no idiots screaming in fear at a movie that was in no way, shape, or form scary.  Instead, everyone was laughing at the copious amounts of humor, both intentional and unintentional (it’s really hard to say how much was intended).  Second, people were chatty.  Usually, chattiness isn’t a good thing in a theater, but some movies practically demand it.  Bad Moms was far funnier if you saw it with a theater full of buzzed moms drinking wine and heckling the movie.  Similarly, Wish Upon is much more fun with people murmuring during the death count downs (I’ll explain in a moment) and audibly cringing in anticipation at the novelty death about to occur.  I mean, how else are you going to have fun at a horror movie that didn’t even have the decency to be rated-R?

Here comes the novelty death.

(Note: at 10pm Mountain Time on Wednesday, July 12, there are zero reviews posted on Rotten Tomatoes for Wish Upon.  Not a good sign for a movie that opens on July 14.  Also, SPOILER ALERT.  I am going to talk about the final wish in this movie.)

The entire premise of Wish Upon is Aladdin’s lamp, but with seven wishes instead of three.  Also, the lamp is actually a music box covered in ancient Chinese writing that only opens when it’s time for someone to die and the genie is an ancient demon that you never get to see (unless you count the carving on the inside of the lid).  Roughly halfway through the movie, we get the complete rule set when convenient-character-fluent-in-ancient-Chinese shows up to translate.  She’s cool though because she accepts payment in the form of wontons (I did not make that up).  The rules are that each wish is paid for in blood (translation: someone dies), the wisher pays with their own life after the seventh wish, and if the wisher ignores, neglects or abandons the box, all their previous wishes are undone (though, neglect and ignore are quite the subjective terms.  How long before it’s considered either of those things?).  Please take note that there are no restrictions on what can be wished for (or wonton girl missed some lines), which is important when it comes to defeating the rules.

Hello, conveniently-skilled girl.

Typically, the arc of a movie such as this would go – person discovers power, person uses power to get what they want, everything is cool for a while, things start to go horribly wrong for person, person tries to undo or destroy power, person lives or dies after a whole lot of carnage, end of movie.  Wish Upon tweaks that formula into something kind of fresh – person unknowingly uses power to get she wants, a death occurs, person unknowingly uses power to get what she wants, a death occurs, lather, rinse, repeat.  In fact, our wisher, Clare (Joey King) doesn’t seem to know about the power until at least her third wish, if not fourth.  I really liked that she didn’t get to spend a bunch time living it up on multiple wishes before the inevitable crash.  It’s like if on the Price is Right, the models swung a baseball bat at your prizes thirty seconds after you won them.

I also like that the demon never manifests itself into something tangible.  The music box was the one genuinely creepy thing in the film and showing us the actual demon responsible for it would have been a travesty and cheapened the movie (admittedly, it’s a pretty cheap movie to begin with).  Most importantly, it would have changed the solution to the problem to defeating the demon instead of the much more satisfying solution we actually got in the form of an idiot teenager trying to wish her way out of being responsible for six deaths.

Where is this high school?

Speaking of which, I’m not sure if the seventh wish was moronic screenwriting or just avoiding writing something clever.  Remember, after the seventh wish, the wisher dies (and Clare is well aware of this), but before that, Clare has to face the fact that she’s a murderer.  The obvious solution to both problems is “I wish I never made any wishes.”  Or “I wish this music box never existed.”  Or “I wish that wishes on this box never resulted in dead people or anything bad happening.”  Wouldn’t it have been interesting to see how that wish played out?  Instead, Clare uses her last wish to go back in time to just before her dad finds the box.  Really?  It wouldn’t have been so bad if Clare hadn’t verbalized “I know what to wish for now” after watching the sixth person die.  No, you don’t, Clare.

Like I said, this was a Movie for Me.  The dialogue is mostly bad and the acting is worse than the dialogue.  This includes Ryan Phillipe (playing Clare’s dad), who appears to have forgotten how to act even though his character is 90% hobo, and a thirty-year old Ki Hong Lee failing at playing a teenager (Clare’s friend Ryan).  Then, there’s the rest of the story, which is riddled with inconsistencies, bad high school clichés (seriously, I want to visit the school where ass holes fling full drinks at people in plain view of everyone), and a muddled rule set that includes killing random people rather than tying them to the wishes somehow (big miss there, writers).  But the film makes up for these deficiencies with the things I mentioned above, plus some hilarious novelty deaths and a Jerry O’Connell cameo that is the pinnacle of unintentional comedy.  In the end, I couldn’t have wished for a better outcome from watching this movie.

Rating: Ask for five dollars back because no audience will make this movie worth full price.