It Comes at Night

It Comes at Night

By: Kevin Jordan

(It’s award consideration season and I’m playing catch-up.  As I tear through them, I thought I’d try mini-reviews.  Enjoy!)

It didn’t in this movie.

Nothing ruins a movie quite like failing to follow through on a promise.  It Comes at Night is a title that promises us something coming at night.  For an hour and a half, I sat there waiting for something, anything, to come at night.  The film builds up the possibilities quite nicely as Paul (Joel Edgerton) and family are holed up in a house in the forest, hiding from something that has infected nearly all humans with a disease.  The first ten minutes of the film are great because of the hook and visuals – a couple of people in gas masks are saying their goodbyes to grandpa, who is infected with the disease and is quickly dispatched by Paul.  I’m not sure you could open a movie better.  Following that, there are creepy hallways, rules about never going out at night, terrified scans of the forest, the family dog tearing off into the forest after something, and a second family that Paul takes in.  All the while, Paul’s son Travis, is having nightmares of diseased people and black goo coming out of their mouths.  Oh my god was I all the way in on this movie halfway through.  Near the hour and twenty-minute mark, the two families have a big falling out and you think this is the lead-in to act three.  Nope.  The movie just ends without ever revealing what they were so worried about (beyond the disease) in the forest or assigning any meaning to Travis’ nightmares.  It was ninety minutes of foreplay and the worst case of movie blue-balls you will ever have.

Rating: Ask for eight dollars back and an ice pack.

A Ghost Story

A Ghost Story

By: Kevin Jordan

Let’s watch some paint dry.

(It’s award consideration season and I’m playing catch-up.  As I tear through them, I thought I’d try mini-reviews.  Enjoy!)

Have you ever wondered what happens when you die?  Of course you have; you are a human person.  A Ghost Story offers writer/director David Lowery’s guess at the afterlife and it is the most boring, unimaginative guess possible.  Lowery surmises that you get to wear a sheet with eyeholes cut out and stand around.  That’s it.  You just stand in places and time no longer matters.  No living thing can you see you or interact with you, but you can spend eternity watching your house (or any place, really) get lived in by different people, fall apart and get razed, be replaced by a sky scraper, or go back in time to see settlers get killed by Native Americans.  None of this is relevant to Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara’s relationship; it is just a timeline of a place that a walking piece of bed linen observes.  A Ghost Story is literally 87 minutes of Casey Affleck wearing a sheet, standing places, and contains fewer lines of dialogue than minutes in the movie (this is not an exaggeration).  There are film snobs that will argue about deeper meaning or art, but there is nothing beyond self-indulgence in five-minute scenes featuring Affleck watching Mara eat a pie in complete silence.  And, if there was any meaning in this film, it was written on a tiny piece of paper by Mara that ghost-Affleck finally extracts from a crack in a door frame (where Rooney stuck it), reads, and evaporates.  But, in a final fuck you to the audience for enduring 86 minutes of nothing, we are not shown what was written on that paper because Lowery made the most boring, unimaginative film possible.

Rating: Ask for whatever you believe 87-minutes of your life is worth, then double it.

The Post

The Post

By: Kevin Jordan

Déjà vu.

I’ve tried to keep politics out of my reviews, with the exception of an occasional swipe or two.  I have very strong opinions, especially in our current situation, but I know that’s not why you come here.  You just want to know how a movie was and, hopefully, laugh at my jokes and nod in agreement.  With The Post, that won’t be possible because the entire movie is literally about politics and news media.  So, you have a choice – buckle up or jump out of the car because we’re going off-roading with this one.

The Post is about the decision by the Washington Post to publish the Pentagon Papers.  What are the Pentagon Papers?  Glad you asked.  During the height of the Vietnam War, the Pentagon commissioned a Top Secret study of the United States’ political and military involvement in Vietnam covering 1945 to 1967.  You read that right – we were screwing around with Vietnam practically before the ink had dried on the Japanese articles of surrender ending WWII.  The study documented all of the activities, including all of the secret missions into neighboring countries and the true rationale for fighting the war.  The report demonstrated that four administrations (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson) were lying to the public regarding their intentions.  If you want to know more, the entire report has been declassified and you can read the 3,000+ pages at your leisure.

Read all about it.

The report was completed in 1969 and Daniel Ellsberg, who worked on the study, leaked it to the New York Times and Washington Post.  The film takes place in 1971 and kicks off with Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) making his decision after hearing Secretary of State Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) lie his ass off to a gaggle of reporters about the war progress.  Ellsberg meets with some people to make copies of the classified text, then we cut away to Kate Graham (Meryl Streep) and Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), the publisher and editor of the Washington Post, respectively, discussing newspaper stuff, including always being two steps behind the New York Times.  The first half of the film does a great job of building up the Post as a local paper trying to get called up the big leagues.  They are also grappling with being on President Nixon’s bad side for an unflattering piece about his family and having a female publisher (owner of the paper) in 1971, so you really get a sense that they need a big win and you will root for them to succeed because you’re not a chauvinist or right-wing nut-job screaming “fake news.”

Can you believe these assholes?

The tension builds as Bradlee suspects the Times is about to publish something huge, eventually proven correct.  Bradlee is desperate to get his hands on a copy of the report and the second act of the film covers their search while trying not to cry over the New York Times spanking them every day.  Luckily for them, Nixon and his appointees were various levels of horrible and the Justice Department filed injunctions to stop the Times from publishing any more of the report, citing national security and classified documents, etc.  At this point, arguably the best scene of the film occurs, featuring Ben Bakdikian (Bob Odenkirk).  Bakdikian meets with Ellsberg and the look on his face as he is hit with the reality of the situation is gold.  But that’s nothing compared to the flight home (which I won’t spoil for you).  Up to this point, the entire movie has been meticulously building to an all-night session at Bradlee’s house where Bradlee and a bunch of reporters pour through documents to find pieces to publish before the printing deadline.  The tension climaxes as a bunch of suits try to pressure Graham not to approve publishing in light of the lawsuit against the Times.

What I love about this movie is that director Steven Spielberg and writers Liz Hannah and Josh Singer convince you that Graham might not allow publishing, even though we live in 2017 and you could easily Google what happened.  It’s filmmaking at its finest and I couldn’t have been more pleased.  In addition to the tension, the actors all crush their roles to the point that you see their characters and not Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep.  As weak as I am at judging performances, when actors of that stature make you forget they are them, I know I’m seeing great performances.  I also just love historical biopics teaching me about things I didn’t know before.  The decision to focus on the journalism instead of the report itself meant filling in a facet of the story that doesn’t get much focus.  The final note regarding that was the Supreme Court sided with the Times, reaffirming that the first amendment is important, the American public’s awareness of such important matters is doubly important, and classifying something because it contains embarrassing information and details illegal acts violates the very trust we place in our government officials.  Which brings us to our current President and today’s Republican Party.

The first amendment is first for a reason.

As we were giving our opinions after the film, one gentlemen expressed that the timing of this film is a little suspicious.  That is a strange way to ding a film, considering that Hollywood always tried to incorporate relevant current events.  Like Nixon (the film is sprinkled with Nixon fuming at the press), Donald Trump has a special hatred for anyone in the media (really, just anyone) that doesn’t want to ram their heads up his ass like Fox News.  Rarely a day goes by that the right isn’t shrieking about the “biased, liberal, main-stream media” because that same “liberal” media has the audacity to report on facts about the horrible people occupying the right and the horrific things they are doing, trying to do, or have already done.  The entire point of this film is to remind us that the first amendment is the most important freedom we have and that the press has an obligation to hold elected officials accountable to keep them from making decisions that are not in the best interests of the country (you know, like their current tax cuts for millionaires and trying to wreck the entire healthcare system).  Fox News forgot that obligation a long time ago when they decided to be nothing more than a paranoid mouthpiece for rich Republican donors and peddle conspiracy theories and bullshit to their ignorant audience.  Yes, there are left-leaning outlets that should also be ignored (sorry Occupy Democrats and Mother Jones), but if you are listening to Trump and which news outlets he says should be trusted, just do the opposite.  Trump’s constant attacks on the media are exactly what Nixon did because both of them are world-class narcissists.  Now I’ll take a breath.

If there’s anything you should take away from this film it is that we need media scrutiny of the government as much now (if not more) than 45 years ago.  The Washington Post and the New York Times are not the enemy of the right (there’s that shrieking again), they are the defenders of the people of this country.  The Post tells us that story and reminds us that the worst case scenario of a discarded free press are your children dead in some shitty country on the other side of the world because some asshole(s) think being President makes them king.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back because we all just got tax breaks.  Just kidding, you didn’t because you’re not rich.

Good Time

Good Time

By: Kevin Jordan

Not so much.

(It’s award consideration season and I’m playing catch-up.  As I tear through them, I thought I’d try mini-reviews.  Enjoy!)

I have hang-ups with titles that don’t make sense and Good Time is a textbook example.  Good Time is about two brothers, one of whom is mentally disabled – Nick (Ben Safdie), who rob a bank but are thwarted by a dye pack because the non-mentally disabled brother – Connie (Robert Pattinson) – is an idiot.  After a chase with the cops, Nick is arrested and taken to jail where he gets the shit beat out of him and is hospitalized.  Connie is short on bail money, so embarks on an eventful night involving a junkie girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and an acid dealer (among other things) as Connie tries to come up with the needed cash.  At no point can any of the events be considered a “good time,” including Connie almost fucking a sixteen-year old girl (despite the current opinion of Roy Moore and half the state of Alabama).  In my year-end review, I’m introducing a new category called “Movies Not For Me.”  Maybe there are weirdos out there entertained by movies that remind you how shitty life and some people can be, but I’m not one of those weirdos.

Rating: Ask for nine dollars back and a coherent title.

Battle of the Sexes

Battle of the Sexes

By: Kevin Jordan

Double fault.

(It’s award consideration season and I’m playing catch-up.  As I tear through them, I thought I’d try mini-reviews.  Enjoy!)

Don’t you hate it when a movie starts out strong, then withers and dies by the end?  Battle of the Sexes advertised its main plot as the storied tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs and it gets there…eventually.  Prior to that, it wanders like a drunken pinball between the beginning of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), lesbianism, chauvinism, infidelity, gambling problems, and women’s equality.  Among all of that, the movie forgets to show any actual tennis beyond a minute or so (until the big match, that is) and doesn’t sell the audience that King is as devoted to tennis as the script keeps telling us.  After bouncing around those topics, the pinball lands on King’s affair with her hair dresser, Marilyn Barnett, and the film falls into bad movie clichés, including Barnett showing up at the big match to give King a last-minute pick-me-up.  No, not that kind of pick-me-up, Barnett just trims King’s hair.  This is a bad writing decision on so many levels, not least of which is undermining the drive to win of a multi-grand slam winner.  The affair doesn’t play into anything other than being blamed for King losing the number one ranking to Margaret Court, so why have it at all?  The movie’s entire premise is man vs. woman.  Woman vs. woman contradicts that.  If they had cut that part out altogether and focused on the match and the fledgling WTA fighting the sexist men running the USLTA (and paying them a tenth of what the men got), the movie would have lived up to its title.  Suffice it to say, the movie wastes great performances from Steve Carell (Riggs), Emma Stone (King), Sarah Silverman (Gladys Heldman, the WTA women’s agent), and Bill Pullman (Jack Kramer, head of the USLTA) in a boring screenplay.  Tilt!

Rating: Ask for seven dollars back and return that serve.

Justice League

Justice League

By: Kevin Jordan

Baby steps (or, I see you, Joss Whedon)

You know how when President Trump gives a speech that doesn’t contain racism, attacks, lies, or ads for his properties, certain people gush over how good or presidential he suddenly is?  What’s that – too political?  Okay; a different analogy.  You know how when your dog doesn’t shit in your living room you gush over what a good boy he is?  Oh yesh, jusht such good boy!  Here’s a treat!  That is where our expectations sit with DCEU movies.  Thus, we have Justice League – a movie that can hold its bowels, but still chews up your couch.

Before getting into the movie, we need to talk about the movie production.  Zack Snyder was roughly 80% through production when tragedy struck his personal life and he left the project.  Joss Whedon was brought on to complete the project, including completion of shooting and extensive reshoots.  Bringing in Whedon was a strange choice, not just because of his extensive involvement with the Marvel movies, but because he and Snyder are exactly opposite when it comes to directing and writing (Whedon also was one of the credited screenwriters on Justice League).  Whedon makes movies that are usually light-hearted, quippy romps, heavy on character development and relationships.  Snyder makes movies like a horny, 12-year old boy with the attention span of gnat who has perfected the perfect slo-mo shot of a just-fired shell casing falling in a drab, sepia-toned world.  You will have no trouble distinguishing which parts of the movie belong to each of them.  In a normal world, this contrast would doom a movie, but Whedon manages to keep the movie from ruining your carpet.

(Side note: There are also two scenes featuring Henry Cavill where his face has been poorly digitally edited to hide a moustache he wasn’t allowed to shave due to filming Mission: Impossible 6.)

What up, Joss?

(Some SPOILERS because, of course there are.  It’s a review).

The problem with the DCEU is a complete lack of long-term vision beyond dollar signs.  Snyder has helmed the franchise since the start and his sacrifice of narrative and storytelling for visuals and playing to the die-hard fan boy has resulted in an incoherent mess of nonsense.  Wonder Woman is somewhat of an exception (a female director, Patty Jenkins, helped immensely), though still bogged down in parts by Snyder’s bullshit (again, it is obvious which parts).  Justice League picks up with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) stopping a terrorist from blowing up four blocks of London, then stopping him from gunning down a bunch of bank patrons.  This scene serves no purpose other than to remind you that Wonder Woman is hilariously overpowered.  To be fair, it’s a decent action scene, but the bad guy’s stated motivation is to force the world to revert to a simpler time before technology.  Huh?  By blowing up a few buildings, Earth will be back in the Stone Age?  That makes as much sense as Batman (Ben Affleck) wanting to kill Superman because “what if Superman decides to kill everyone?”

Move, Zack.

The plot of the movie is nearly as pointless as that opening scene, which is essentially forming a super team to thwart an impending alien invasion of flying insect monsters.  Batman spends the first part of the movie recruiting the heroes promised in Batman v Superman to thwart the bugs.  Then, a tall, devil-y looking, poorly rendered CGI guy named Steppenwolf (worst villain name ever, voiced by Ciaran Hinds) shows up via Thor’s warp tunnels to steal a mother box (worst MacGuffin name ever) from the Amazons.  We learn there are three mother boxes and if Steppenwolf puts them back together, he’ll be able to destroy all civilization on Earth…or something?  He refers to mother and the insect guys follow him and when they smell fear they attack and wow is this story really stupid.  We even get one of Snyder’s standard flashbacks of whatever convoluted absurdity he fever-dreamed to give Steppenwolf a back story that explains nothing.  As an added bonus, he says he’s finally able to return to Earth because the death of Superman left no Kryptonians on Earth.  Okay, shut up.  Superman (Cavill) was literally the last Kryptonian and only on Earth for 33 years.  Steppenwolf was banished 5,000 years earlier, so why couldn’t he come back for the other 4,967 years?  You know what – I don’t give a shit.  And that is the crux of the DCEU problems.

LOOK!  It’s a bird!…It’s a plane!…It’s a middle-aged balding man wearing a browncoat!  While I continue workshopping that sentence, two things.  One – Superman is resurrected in this movie and if you didn’t see that coming, I envy your innocence.  Two – Whedon injecting some sorely needed levity into the film.  The Flash is the most obvious example and has almost all of the quipping lines.  But the part that makes you have hope for the future of the franchise in a non-Synder’s hands is when the Flash joins the fray in a pointless Superman-fights-the-team-scene.  The scene is in slow motion to highlight the Flash’s speed and as he nears Superman, Superman turns his eyes, then his head, to look at the Flash.  The surprised look on the Flash’s face is brilliant and funny and projects everything this franchise could be in a non-pre-pubescent hands.

So, this new script says…

Virtually everyone coming out of the movie said it was okay or just fine or “thank God it wasn’t as bad as Batman v Superman.”  Despite Wonder Woman carrying much of the movie and Whedon injecting competence where he could, the movie was a far cry from being the pinnacle of the franchise like The Avengers was to MCU.  The new characters are minimally developed, even to the point of all of them having the clichéd dead moms (seriously, all but Wonder Woman’s mom is alive, not counting Martha Kent).  Don’t get me wrong, there was just enough for me to want to watch a Flash movie, Aquaman movie, and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) movie.  But Amy Adams and J.K Simmons were completely wasted and I am way off the Affleck-as-Batman train.  To top that all off, we get a teaser at the end of the film that is so poorly conceived that it felt like the movie was trolling us (and you have no idea how badly I want to spoil it for you).  One of these days, we’re going to get the DC movie we deserve, but a smidge of progress is better than nothing.  At least we didn’t have to break out the carpet cleaner this time.

Rating: Ask for half of your money back.  It’s fun at times and not fun at other times, but baby steps, people.