Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, Amazon and Netflix were making attempts to cut into the theater business with direct-release original movies on their streaming services. For the most part, those films consisted of two types of movies – award bait and toilet residue. Trying to compete with the medium and large budget theater releases was going very poorly for them. Then, Covid struck, theaters closed, and nearly all of those larger-budget movies were delayed. Suddenly, Amazon and Netflix were primed to make a real dent in the theater business model of movies. At the same time, other nascent streaming services went from the fringes to the spotlight, practically overnight. Apple, Hulu, and especially Disney were handed audiences desperate for new films. While it’s too early to predict how the different services will fare in this new model, it’s clear that the model is undergoing a fundamental change.
I have always believed that the only movies worth seeing in the theaters are comedies, horror flicks, and big, loud blockbusters. The first two genres are purely for audience reasons; they are much more fun to watch as a group than to watch alone. Laughter and scares are contagious. Doing either of those along with a hundred other people makes you feel like you are part of the group; that you are in on the experience. And, of course, blockbusters. Unless your name is Bezos or Gates, you do not have a home theater that can hold a candle to a real theater in the tech department. You want that giant picture and sound. You need that giant picture and sound. Michael Bay will make sure you get what you paid for.
Which is where a movie like Greyhound comes in. Greyhound is a World War II movie that immerses us in the harrowing journey of a convoy of supply ships trying to cross the Atlantic Ocean without being sunk by German submarines. Greyhound is the call sign of the U.S. Navy destroyer tasked with escorting and protecting the convoy (along with a Canadian corvette, Polish destroyer, and British destroyer). Captain Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks) commands Greyhound and the entire convoy. Like some recent WWII films (Fury, Dunkirk, Midway), the sole purpose of the movie is to put the viewer into the experience, in this case the bridge of a destroyer, with no fluff (looking at you Pearl Harbor). This is a movie meant to be seen on a sixty-foot screen and heard by astronauts on the space station.
The entire film takes place on the Greyhound, with occasional shots of other convoy ships, explosions, and submarines, always from the vantage point of the Greyhound. It is a beautifully shot film, capturing the dreariness of the North Atlantic, the horrors of naval warfare, and the tension of the crew wondering if the next attack will be their last. Tom Hanks is fantastic as Captain Krause, a commander on his first mission during the war. Krause is constantly on edge, calculating his next move, pondering his next order, always hoping not to make that fatal mistake that dooms them all. In fact, he is so anxious he barely sleeps or eats for the three days of the journey where they have no air cover and are constantly harassed and attacked by the Germans.
And the sound is as good as the visuals. Unlike many action flicks, most of the battle scenes dispense with the music to allow the audience to hear the sounds of the ship, the sounds of the ocean, and the sounds of battle. From the window wipers on the bridge to the ping of the radar to the groaning of steel straining against the waves, everything we hear maintains and even raises the tension throughout the film. When Krause winces at his bloody feet, we feel it with him. When the men suffer losses, we suffer with them.
Or, we would have if Greyhound was a movie we watched in theaters rather than from our couches, streaming exclusively on Apple TV Plus. While still an excellent movie to watch anywhere, much is lost in the downsizing to a TV measured in inches and a sound system that Marty McFly would scoff at.
The question now is will this be the new normal when we finally get past Covid? That is still several months away, giving people plenty of time to get accustomed to watching new movies from the convenience of their living rooms. Gigantic blockbusters are not going to go away, but are studios going to continue spending north of $200 million on a Godzilla shrunken down to size? And what about those comedies and horror movies that rely on the collective live experience and word-of-mouth popularity? Most importantly, who wants to subscribe to eighteen different streaming services, just to make sure they have access to all the new movies? I can live in a world where Amazon, Netflix, and Apple TV augment the movie industry, but not one where they are the movie industry.
Rating: While I try to figure out how to tweak my rating system for a theater-less world, pretend you did see this movie in theaters and don’t ask for any money back.
Deadline to enter is 1/14 and winners will be notified via email on 1/15.
NEWS OF THE WORLD DECEMBER 25, 2020
Cast: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel
Director: Paul Greengrass
Screenplay By: Paul Greengrass and Luke Davies,
based upon the novel by Paulette Jiles
Producers: Gary Goetzman, Gail Mutrux, Gregory Goodman
Executive Producers: Steven Shareshian, Tore Schmidt
This Christmas, Universal Pictures is proud to present Tom Hanks starring in News of the World, a moving story written and directed by Paul Greengrass, reuniting for the first time with his star from their 2013 Best Picture nominee Captain Phillips.
Five years after the end of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Hanks), a veteran of three wars, now moves from town to town as a non-fiction storyteller, sharing the news of presidents and queens, glorious feuds, devastating catastrophes, and gripping adventures from the far reaches of the globe.
In the plains of Texas, he crosses paths with Johanna (Helena Zengel, System Crasher), a 10-year-old taken in by the Kiowa people six years earlier and raised as one of their own. Johanna, hostile to a world she’s never experienced, is being returned to her biological aunt and uncle against her will.
Kidd agrees to deliver the child where the law says she belongs. As they travel hundreds of miles into the unforgiving wilderness, the two will face tremendous challenges of both human and natural forces as they search for a place that either can call home.
News of the World is directed by Greengrass (the Bourne films, United 93) from his screenplay with Luke Davies (Lion), based on the National Book Award finalist and best-selling novel by Paulette Jiles. The film is produced by Gary Goetzman (Mamma Mia! franchise, Greyhound), Gail Mutrux (The Danish Girl, Donnie Brasco) and Gregory Goodman (22 July, 8 Mile). The executive producers are Steven Shareshian and Tore Schmidt. The film’s music is by eight-time Academy Award® nominee James Newton Howard.
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.
I am a big fan of books like Inferno – action/adventure treasure hunts featuring loads of historical references. James Rollins, Steve Berry, and, of course, Dan Brown are just three of the authors known for these books. For those of you who missed The Da Vinci Code craze, Inferno is the fourth book in Brown’s Robert Langdon series (The Da Vinci Code is the second in the series) and it has all the elements of the previous installments. There’s plenty of action and chasing, there are people who aren’t who they seem, there’s symbologist Langdon (Tom Hanks) who must follow a series of clues hidden in religious and historical art to discover the location of something that could end the world, and there’s a girl on Langdon’s hip for much of the adventure. It’s exactly what everyone wants from Dan Brown. And, if you don’t scratch the surface of the plot, it’s a very entertaining movie.
(Since I think this movie is worth a viewing – well, almost worth a viewing – you should probably stop reading at this point or skip to the last paragraph because I’m going to scratch the surface. In other words, SPOILER ALERT for the rest of the review.)
The premise of the film is that a crazy, billionaire, geneticist named Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) believes the human race is in danger of extinction because of overpopulation so he’s going to release a custom-designed virus to kill half of the human race. Yes, it sounds contradictory, but when he explains it, you’re still confused. I think he’s trying to say that overpopulation will render the entire planet uninhabitable (and in less than 100 years, no less), so everyone will die, but all he can talk about are previous plagues and a clock measuring the existence of humans (we’re currently at 11:59, he says). Plus, how does he know the virus won’t just kill everyone rather than the conveniently round number of half? As a bonus, during a lecture he points out that population growth went from 4 billion in the 1970’s to almost 8 billion in just 40 years, so his plan is…to set humans back to disco? He wants to kill 4 billion people just to buy the human race 40 years? I’m not sure you’ve fully thought this one out, Berty.
I love treasure hunts.
Unfortunately, that’s the easy part of the story. As the film progresses, the plot turns into a tangle of confusion as the curtains are pulled back on various groups, individuals, motives, and events. The film begins with Langdon waking up in a hospital in Florence with a slight case of amnesia. Dr. Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) is explaining his situation to him when an Italian Carabinieri (national police) officer starts shooting at them. That’s right, we’re getting right to the action in this film. After Robert and Sienna escape, Langdon discovers a cylinder in his pocket containing a special flashlight that projects Botticelli’s depiction of Dante’s map of hell from Dante’s Inferno – aka, the first clue. Thus begins the hunt where the prize is the virus. Oh, and the virus is in a special water-soluble bag that will burst at midnight (it’s submerged in water) because every treasure hunt needs a timer and James Bond-ian doomsday device.
I know this means something, I just can’t remember what.
Also chasing after the virus are a team from the World Health Organization (WHO), a guy who wants to sell the virus to the highest bidder, a security group hired by Bertrand to protect the flashlight, and Bertrand’s girlfriend. The connections between the various groups change as people die and hidden motivations come to light, but by the end it becomes everyone trying to stop the girlfriend from releasing the virus. At this point, you have all the information needed to form a plot itch you can’t help but scratch.
Question 1: If Bertrand wants to release the virus, why not just release it when it’s ready? Why the elaborate setup?
Answer: Maybe Bertrand is a big James Bond fan and likes elaborate doomsday devices. Yeah, let’s go with that.
Question 2: Why would Bertrand leave clues leading to where he hid the virus if it doesn’t require human interaction to be released or for anyone to find it? Why create the flashlight at all?
Question 3: Bertrand tells his girlfriend that if anything happens to him, he’s made sure that the flashlight will get to her. Same question as 2.
Answer: Oh no.
Question 4: Bertrand refuses to tell her where he hid the virus (she asks), so why would the flashlight need to get to her if he doesn’t want her to find the virus?
Answer: He secretly hates her?
You see what I’m getting at? There is no logical reason for Bertrand to have created the flashlight in the first place or the elaborate treasure hunt. And, let’s assume for the moment that the virus did need human interaction (which defeats the purpose of hiding it at all) – it wouldn’t make sense to create an elaborate treasure hunt to make it difficult for her to find and release the virus. I’ve spent the last 24 hours trying to conceive of any logical reason, no matter how flimsy, to justify Bertrand creating the flashlight and I can’t do it. And now my head hurts.
There’s always a tomb.
(Side note: This is the level of plot hole that ruined Signs for me, though I didn’t notice the hole in Signs during the film; my brother brought it up later.)
Like I said, if you don’t look beneath the surface – or first circle, if you will *wink, wink* – the movie is a perfectly fine action flick. Try not to listen too closely to some of the explanations thrown out there for certain actions. Do listen closely to Langdon’s historical lectures. Enjoy another fine Tom Hanks performance. Smile at Felicity Jones proving she can handle an action role because Star Wars: Rogue One is right around the corner. Mostly, enjoy the treasure hunt because who doesn’t love a decent treasure hunt, even if it’s existence defies logic?
Rating: Ask for four dollars back and go buy the book. It has to make more sense than the movie.
If you are the type of person who gets nervous or anxious when flying, you probably hate me. I’m the guy sitting next to you sleeping through take-off. While I won’t apologize for that, I will apologize for any snoring that may occur. Also, you should not watch Sully. You may know the story of the Miracle on the Hudson, but you don’t want to see it happen in living color. It’s bad enough that you probably already have nightmares involving airplanes; you don’t need to add to them by watching this movie.
Back in 2012, Denzel Washington starred in Flight, Sully’s spiritual predecessor. They are basically the same movie – an airline pilot saves everyone on board a failed airplane, then that pilot faces investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Sully is the movie Flight wanted to be, even to the point of coming out just three years after Captain Sullenberger successfully landed an airplane on a river. The difference is that Sully is a very good movie and Flight is, at best, meh.
The biggest thing that makes Sully a much better movie than Flight is that you care about Captain Sullenberger (Tom Hanks). Denzel’s pilot is a drunk cocaine user, including when he is piloting aircraft. Sullenberger is our kindly, straight-laced grandfather. So, when the NTSB investigators start digging into Sully’s actions, there is never a moment where we are actively rooting for the investigators. The movie even helps us out by sharing Sully’s nightmares of crashing airplanes to induce more sympathy. Incidentally, Sully’s nightmares are the other reason you folks with a fear of flying should not watch this movie. You definitely do not want to see a jetliner trying to thread through skyscrapers.
He’s calm now, but he doesn’t know about the upcoming nightmares.
The other thing that makes this movie great is the pacing. It’s short (just 96 minutes), so it doesn’t waste time focusing on things of little importance, and it does a good job of building up the suspense. No, not the suspense of if he saves everybody (you smartass), but how the investigation turns out. As in Flight, the point of the NTSB investigation is to determine fault and the investigation skews heavily toward pilot error. So, much of Sully is spent in meeting rooms where the investigators (Anna Gunn, Mike O’Malley, and Jamey Sheridan) keep telling Sully and first officer Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) that they could have landed safely on a runway at one of two nearby airports and Sully and Skiles insisting the investigators and computers (algorithms and simulations) are wrong.
The film (directed by Clint Eastwood) also does a good job of switching between the investigation and the crash over its duration. The constant transitions keep the movie from becoming monotonous, which is exactly what turned Flight into a slog (not to mention Flight’s overly long 139-minute run time). Eastwood also sprinkles in the nightmares and some short scenes with Sully’s wife (Laura Linney) to complete the humanization of Sully. This is an absolute must because if you don’t know anything about Sully beyond his water landing, you come into this movie imagining him as an impervious hero. In order for the film to work at a dramatic level, Sully has to come off as a regular human and one that might have made a mistake. Serious kudos should go to Eastwood because, after watching him lecture an empty chair four years ago, I never would have thought he’d still be capable of putting together a coherent movie, much less a great movie with exceptional drama.
Clint’s still got it.
After watching the film, there was one question it raised that I was very curious about – have there been other successful forced water landings by similar aircraft? I’ve personally logged around a quarter of million air miles (as a passenger, not a pilot) and not once have I ever believed I would actually utilize my seat cushion as a floatation device. The good news is that there have indeed been successful forced water landings besides Sully’s. The bad news is you can count them on one hand. I know that doesn’t help your flight anxiety, so I’ll just go back to sleep. Wake me when we land.
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back unless you paid for the in-flight snack. What a ripoff.