Irresistible

Irresistible

By: Kevin Jordan

Politically correct.

The United States Supreme Court has made more than a few boneheaded decisions throughout its not-so-illustrious history. Google “bad supreme court decisions,” grab a very large cup of coffee, and get comfortable for hours of eye-opening reading. The best part of that search is it does not matter where you fall on the political spectrum; there are plenty of pieces written from every political bent about all of the bad decisions. Personally, I fall on the side of not fucking over our democratic republic’s election system, so I consider Citizens United v. FEC to be one of the worst decisions of the court’s history. Irresistible is a satiric look at the consequences of that decision wrapped in a what-if scenario.

What if there was a retired Marine colonel who became a dairy farmer in rural Wisconsin and who also defended immigrants? In real life, that person is a unicorn, but in this movie he is Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper). Political campaign consultant Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) is shown a YouTube clip of Jack lecturing the mayor of Deerlaken, Wisconsin, about protecting everyone in the town during their hard financial times, not just the white folks. After consulting on the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign, this video is catnip to Gary, who decides he can make Jack into the new poster child of the Democratic Party.

Gary flies out to meet Jack and convinces Jack to run for mayor against incumbent Republican Mayor Braun (Brent Sexton). From there, the film leans full-tilt into displaying the absurdity of a political campaign, especially in a town of only a few thousand people. Gary brings in his full team, lines up big-money donors, and even baits his rival Republican consultant, Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), into pouring money and publicity into Mayor Braun’s campaign, all with the objective of garnering national attention. Does Gary care one wit about the actual politics of Deerlaken’s people? Maybe a little, but Faith sure as shit doesn’t, and she is not shy about it.

This is too what ranchers where when throwing hay bales.

As the movie progresses, so does the level of craziness Gary and Faith stoop to for the sake of party and future campaigning. Jack is relegated to the background for much of the campaign, with his daughter Diana (Mackenzie Davis) filling in as liaison for much of the campaign. As the days and weeks roll by, we see pamphlets, slogans, data analytics, demographic breakdowns, polling trends, and TV ads. Oh, the TV ads. On the pro-Jack side, the ads wrap themselves in patriotism and aw-shucks-down-on-the-farm-home-living. On the anti-Jack side, the terrorists are coming for you and the apocalypse is nigh. I know this movie is satire, but it’s hard to decide whether to laugh or cry at a movie that is arguably less satirical than real life.

Eventually, we reach the end of the campaign – voting day – where the film puts the final exclamation mark on its view of post-Citizens-United campaigns. There are lessons to be learned by both Gary and Faith, but the film lets both of them (and our two parties) off the hook, simply sending them on their way to the next campaign(s). Granted, we never expected introspection from Faith, a monster who would punch a baby for a poll bump. But, it’s a little disappointing to see Gary look bewildered for roughly six seconds before simply shrugging and moving on, since he seemed to have a shred of conscience at points throughout the film. Even more disappointing is realizing what the film was missing the entire time – bite.

Written and directed by Jon Stewart, one would expect a much more searing takedown on the issue of campaign finance considering everything we saw from him during his Daily Show years. The satire and commentary were there in the film, but presented in a fairly sterilized bubble seemingly designed to be as inoffensive as possible. Which is not to say the film isn’t entertaining, just to say that you will be disappointed if you are hoping for a political heavyweight of a film. I appreciate that Stewart did not try to tackle multiple political issues, choosing instead to stay focused on campaign finance and subtly weaving small jabs throughout the film at many of those issues that so divide us today. If nothing else, the film was quite politically correct.

Rating: You can ask for a couple of dollars back, but the Supreme Court says corporations get to keep all of it.

Terminator: Dark Fate

Terminator: Dark Fate

By: Kevin Jordan

Have you seen this bo- …er, girl?

Every franchise hits that point where it either has to start over, switch to prequels, or ignore much of what came before it in order to keep audiences coming back for more. The Alien franchise did it with Prometheus, choosing to go the prequel route. The Predator franchise has started over at least twice, with Predators and The Predator. The MCU started over before it even began, remaking The Hulk, then ignoring that movie altogether, including the actor (Edward Norton). The ­X-Men franchise committed suicide early twice (Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine), rebooted itself with First Class, erased Last Stand at the end of Days of Future Past, and now needs another reboot after the very bad Apocalypse and even worse Dark Phoenix.

The Terminator franchise is no different. After the decent, but entirely forgettable T3: Rise of the Machines, audiences really did not like Salvation (I might be the only one who non-sarcastically loved it) and downright loathed Genisys (I only disliked it). Following in the footsteps of other franchises, Terminator went back to James Cameron (original director and writer) to breathe life back into the machines. Cameron promptly decided to ignore everything following T2: Judgement Day (including TV’s The Sarah Connor Chronicles), convinced Linda Hamilton to reprise the role of Sarah Connor, and wrote a major plot decision into the first three minutes of the new film Terminator: Dark Fate to chart a course for the rest of the film and the franchise.

Will you be Sarah Connor again if we give you a bazooka?

(SPOILER ALERT. I promise I will be good.)

The majority of the film takes place twenty-two years after Sarah, her son John, Miles Dyson, and their humane terminator destroyed Skynet. Right up front, you need to know that the entire layout and plot of this film is the same as T1 and T2. A genocidal artificial intelligence called Legion has sent a terminator back in time – a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) – to kill a future leader of the human resistance, Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes). The resistance has sent back a cybernetically-augmented super soldier – Grace (Mackenzie Davis) – to protect Dani. The entirety of the movie is Dani and Grace running from one location to the next, trying to escape the deadly Rev-9. And, like before, they end up in an industrial setting to have the final battle with the Rev-9.

The good news is that the small differences more than make up for the well-worn plot. The first difference is that Dani and Grace get some extra help in the form of a bitter and battle-hardened Sarah Connor showing up at just the right moment to help them escape their first run-in with the Rev-9. If you have seen a trailer for Dark Fate, you have seen this scene (involving a bazooka). They also get help later in the film from a grizzly old T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger), going by the name Carl. Yes, this film has a sense of humor, but it is almost entirely provided by our favorite killer cyborg (as dead-pan and hilarious as ever). If you want to know more about old Carl, just know that, like Uncle Bob from T2, this machine has also learned how to be more human. If I tell you any more than that, I will be breaking my earlier promise (just know that his existence is explained in the first scene of the movie).

We might need a little help.

The second difference is Grace herself. She is a mashup of Uncle Bob and Kyle Reese, but much more human than not. What makes her so interesting is that she can go toe-to-toe with the Rev-9, but only for a short amount of time. Her implants require a ton of energy and, once depleted, she turns into a massive liability until she gets a cocktail of chemicals injected into her system. It’s a clever bit of imagination that her strength is also her weakness. Also, she is fucking awesome. Sarah is still a badass in this film, but she rubs Grace the wrong way and Grace assures Sarah that she can rip Sarah’s throat out at her leisure.

The third difference the Rev-9. He is very similar to Grace in that he is a mashup of his film predecessors, the T-800 and T-1000. He is even cooler than Grace to behold because he is a carbon black metal skeleton terminator covered by a black-liquid terminator. He can literally split himself into those two different terminators, which creates a whole different dynamic in the chase/fight scenes. To add to his character, he is even creepily charming like Robert Patrick was, though more so, not just murdering everyone like the original T-800. Also like Grace, he is fucking awesome.

Yasssssss!

I am aware that I am in the minority of people who liked all of the Terminator films (even Genisys to a point), so me giving a glowing review of Dark Fate deserves a grain of salt. Luckily, the majority of critics are on my side this time, as was the plurality of the screening audience. Dark Fate is a very fun movie with great special effects and cool new characters. Like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it manages to feel new while almost being a remake at the same time. It manages to bring back old characters without seeming trite or forced. Most importantly, it manages to reboot a franchise that we all left for dead. Let’s just hope the next film is a lot more Judgement Day than Dark Phoenix.

Rating: Do not ask for any money back, but do ask that James Cameron stay involved for the next film.

The Martian

By: Kevin Jordan

Fictional humans on Mars is better than nothing.

martian

A friend and I were chatting about space stuff, and one of the things we discussed was NASA’s current estimate of launching a manned mission to Mars by the mid-2030’s.  She was crestfallen when I said “no chance” and explained to her why that’s a pipe dream.  (We were supposed to have a replacement for the space shuttle by 2010 – which is now estimated for 2024 – and that was just for lifting astronauts to the International Space Station just 250 miles above the Earth, as opposed to the roughly 35 million miles to Mars.  You do the math.)  So, both of us will most likely be dead before that ever happens (and I’m still in my thirties).  The closest she and I will get to seeing that achievement is by watching movies like The Martian.

There are many movies that are easy comparisons to The MartianGravity, Apollo 13, Red Planet – really, any space movie in which disaster strikes and the character(s) must survive an impossible situation.  (Castaway is an appropriate comparison as well).  The one thing that differentiates The Martian from those other films is that The Martian doesn’t take itself so seriously.  That’s not a complaint about those other films, but it’s what makes The Martian feel like a breath of fresh air (and a sorely needed one in this genre).  It’s nice sitting through a movie in which characters aren’t hyperventilating every other scene or playing tic-tac-toe to decide which button she should push because the writer or director was too lazy to make the character smarter than an airlock.

(Mild SPOILERS ahead and, also, he dies at the end.  Or not.  Gotcha.)

Matt Damon plays the title character, astronaut Mark Watney.  He and his team are on the surface of Mars when a massive storm forces them to evacuate to the relative safety of space.  While making their way toward their escape rocket, Mark is hit by a piece of debris that destroys his health monitor, renders him unconscious, and knocks him out of visual range of the rest of the crew.  Captain Lewis (Jessica Chastain) is forced to leave him for dead in order to save the rest of the crew and they all leave the planet.  When Mark awakes, he is alone, but his suit is intact and their habitat survived the storm.  Since you are an intelligent movie goer, you immediately begin to list problems because you understand that (a) the ship cannot turn around because they don’t have the supplies to do that and still make it back to Earth alive, (b) the shortest current travel time to Mars is eight months, so Mark must survive at least that long, and (c) how long can Mark survive in the habitat given there is most definitely not enough food and water to last even the minimum eight months?  Those are all good points and I’m not going to address any of them because I think you should pay money to watch this film.

But I will tell you a little bit about the characters, which will give some hints as to what happens.  For starters, Mark is a botanist and the previews show him growing stuff.  Part of the fun of this movie is how he solves problems like that, so from now until you see this movie, see if you can figure out how he does that (and, no, there are no plants of any kind already growing in the habitat prior to the disaster).  Going back to what I said earlier, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, so Mark is presented as a rational, level-headed, non-panicky guy trying to make the best out of the worst possible situation imaginable.  Much of the movie is presented as him speaking to recording devices throughout the habitat and we see him making light of situations, thinking and talking out problems and solutions, and choosing the exact right moments to cuss.  It’s the perfect way to present this movie because there is always tension in the background (you are always waiting for something to go wrong), but is overshadowed by Mark’s resiliency.

The crew is presented the same way, but the five of them are really the equivalent of one character.  Captain Lewis is the brain, the serious leader who must make all the hard choices.  Martinez (Michael Pena) is the mouth, providing the comic relief.  Johanssen (Kate Mara) is the heart, balancing the voices of reason with the voices of emotion.  Beck (Sebastian Stan) and Vogel (Aksel Hennie) are the limbs, providing feedback to the body, but mostly just doing what they are asked.  While it seems like they should have a bigger role in the movie (considering their acting chops), they are minor supporting characters.  And, of course they are, they’re on their way home – what can they do?

The major supporting characters are the folks at NASA who are trying to figure out how to keep Mark alive long enough to mount a rescue mission.  The main players are Director Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and his direct reports – Montrose (Kristen Wiig), Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), supported by a mix of managers (Sean Bean, Benedict Wong) and techies (Donald Glover, Mackenzie Davis, Benedict Wong).  Like the Mars crew, the NASA crew Voltron themselves (yes, I just made a verb out of Voltron) into a single entity, each character providing a different trait.  The difference is Sanders, Montrose, and Kapoor have the most screen time, aside from Matt Damon, so they are much more fleshed-out than the ship crew and provide more than a single trait.  The biggest surprise for me was Wiig.  I normally end up despising her characters, but her Montrose was a much more likable character and her delivery was far superior than past performances (especially when delivering humor).  This time, I actually wanted her character to succeed rather than die in a spontaneous mission control accident.

Besides all of that, the most enjoyable thing about the movie is the realism.  Unlike the pie-in-the-sky science of Red Planet or the idiocy of Gravity’s physics, everything that happened in The Martian seems like someone thought about it for more time than it takes to toast bread.  From the food to the fuel to the travelling to the air to the rescue mission solutions to the matching relative velocities, it never felt like the movie was asking me to stretch the definition of “suspend your disbelief” to the point of making my brain cry.  I’m sure there is some liberty taken with the science, but if the average layperson (me) didn’t spot it without Neil Tyson DeGrasse pointing it out, then the filmmakers did a good job.

Thinking about this movie afterward, it might just be the best film I’ve seen all year.  At the very least, it’s the most complete.  The story is simple, thoughtful, and doesn’t have any glaring, obvious plot holes (this isn’t a surprise considering it’s based on a novel of the same name by Andy Weir.  But, nice adaptation by Drew Goddard).  The visuals are wonderful and even the 3-D was better than usual, providing some amazing depth and color (though I did learn a tip for 3-D viewing, you must sit dead center on the screen – I know, duh, right?).  Matt Damon nails his performance, as do the make-up and costume guys (I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned them before, but it had to be said here).  But most importantly, it’s a movie you’ll want to watch many times over, because besides being a great movie, at this point, the zombie apocalypse is going to happen before we see an actual human on Mars.

Rating: You definitely underpaid for this movie.  Even if you paid twice.